|Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare?|
The Authorship Debate
Although, among literary scholars, it is still viewed as very much a fringe theory, the number of anti-Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare did not write the work attributed to him) is increasing.
Among them, actors Mark Rylance and Derek Jacbobi, threw their doubting hats into the ring and, in 2007, released a ‘declaration of reasonable doubt’, which was signed by 200 academics.
Why is There Doubt Over Shakespeare’s Authorship?
There are many reasons cited by anti-Stratdfordians, but one of the main ones is simply that so little is known of Shakespeare’s life. For example:
There is no record of Shakespeare having had an education. This, for many anti-Stratfordians, is the most compelling piece of evidence. After all, how can someone with little or no formal education be the most famous playwright in the world?
There is the large gap, known as the ‘lost years’ (1585-1592), in which no evidence exists to suggest where Shakespeare was or what he was doing. Some have suggested he was teaching, others believe he was forced to leave Stratford Upon Avon, after being caught poaching deer from the local estate.
Then, of course, there is Shakespeare’s rather mysterious will, which does not mention any plays, poems, books or, perhaps most importantly, the Globe Theatre.
Who Did Write Shakespeare’s Plays?
The problem for the anti-Stratforidan case, however, is that no agreement can be reached as to who really did write Shakespeare’s plays. There are many candidates (approximately 70) suggested, some of the more plausible being:
- Francis Bacon
- Christopher Marlowe
- Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
- William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
|Mary Sydney Countess of Pembroke |
Could She Have Been Shakespeare?
However, if the author is really Marlowe, Bacon or another writer, then the reason for his secrecy is less clear.
Of course, there are those who have suggested that the real author of Shakespeare’s work was, in fact, a woman - hence the need to create a fictional male playwright as her beard.
And then there are those, like the aforementioned Mark Rylance, who believe that the plays were likely to have been works of collaboration, rather than of any one man (or woman).
Evidence That Shakespeare Did Write Shakespeare
Okay, so let’s look at things from the other side. The truth is that anti-Stratfordian argument hinges on a lack of evidence, so there is no proof that Shakespeare either didn’t exist or was a front man for another author. So, lets look at the three points mentioned above.
Shakespeare had no education - Well, just because no records exist, it doesn’t follow that he didn’t have an education. Given that The King’s New School, was almost on the Shakespeares’ doorstep and the fact that his parents were both comparatively wealthy, it is reasonable to assume he would have attended the school.
Shakespeare didn’t exist for 7 years - There are any number of reasons that Shakespeare fell off the radar for a spell in the latter part of the 16th century. Keep in mind, he wasn’t famous at this point and, as far as we know, hadn’t even begun to write plays for the London theatre scene. Having attempted to trace some of my family tree, I’ve discovered that a number of my ancestors seem to ‘disappear’ for a while. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were posing as a successful playwright for a member of the aristocracy.
|Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament|
A lack of information in Shakespeare’s Will
- Again, this might not be as mysterious and suspicious as it seems. For one thing, at the time of Shakespeare’s death, the law stated that one third of a man’s estate automatically passed to his widow. Therefore, there may have been little need to dictate individual bequests. Moreover, the Globe Theatre was owned by the entire company - not Shakespeare alone.
Does it Matter Who Wrote Shakespeare?
On the face of it, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether all those great plays and poems were written by the man from Stratford Upon Avon or the man from Del Monte. They’re great works of literature regardless of who wrote them.
Nevertheless, the authorship debate prompts fierce opinions in some. Because the anti-Stratfordian argument is based solely on a lack of evidence, rather than compelling proof to indicate one alternative author, I’m unconvinced by it.
I also wonder why it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the authorship debate arose. If Shakespeare really had been a fraud, surely it wouldn’t have taken almost 250 years for someone to mention it?
If you’d like to learn more about Shakespeare’s life and works, check out What’s It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.